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Judge gags trial participants, then disposes of case at unscheduled hearing

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Judge gags trial participants, then disposes of case at unscheduled hearing 05/31/1994 WISCONSIN -- A state circuit judge gagged prosecutors,…

Judge gags trial participants, then disposes of case at unscheduled hearing

05/31/1994

WISCONSIN — A state circuit judge gagged prosecutors, defense attorneys and police from talking publicly about the case of a juvenile charged with killing his father, then allowed the case to be disposed of during an unscheduled hearing in late May.

In April, a 10-year old boy allegedly shot his sleeping father. The boy told police he was upset about his father’s drinking and verbal abuse, according to the Associated Press.

Wisconsin law prohibits the release of the names of juveniles charged with crimes. However, the prosecutor released police reports to a reporter who requested the documents under the state Open Records Act.

In mid-May, Rock County Circuit Court Judge John Lussow ordered the attorneys and police not to comment on the case “without permission from this court.”

The Janesvillle Gazette indirectly identified the juvenile when it printed the victim’s name and identified the relationship between the victim and the suspect. Editor Scott Angus said that although the paper was threatened with contempt by Judge Lussow, no action was ever taken.

Although Angus objected to Lussow’s order, the issue became moot after the prosecutor and defense attorney came to an agreement on the disposition of the case during an unscheduled hearing on May 20. Angus said that a free-lance journalist who happened to be present reported that the youth will spend a year in a youth detention facility.

“We still have questions about how the decision was made in this case, but no one will talk to us, including the judge,” Angus said.

Angus said that in this case the prohibition against publishing the juvenile’s name clashed with the First Amendment. “The goal is to protect the juvenile but we need to provide information to our readers. The fact that the victim’s son was charged makes it newsworthy, but that information leads to the identification of the juvenile.”